The Case for Joe Mixon as a Top-5 Fantasy Football Running Back
The 23-year-old rode inconsistent production to an RB13 finish in half-PPR leagues, a hair below his RB11 average draft position (ADP). And when I say inconsistent, I mean inconsistent -- Mixon was just the RB34 through Week 7. More on that later.
How should you value Mixon in 2020? Let's take a look.
Per BestBall10s, Mixon has an ADP of 8.17 -- meaning he's coming off the board in round one even in 10-team leagues, seventh at his position.
All in all, you're likely going to need to spend a high- to mid-first-round pick on Mixon in order to acquire his services. Is he worth it? Let's take a look at his production.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that Mixon's played on a team that has won a combined 7 of their 32 games over the last two seasons. From game script to offensive line play to quarterback effectiveness, the team that's surrounding the running back is crucial for fantasy football purposes.
With that in mind, let's start breaking down his production. In 2019, it was akin to Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Have a look.
|Weeks 1-7||Weeks 7-17|
|Rushes per Game||12||21.6|
|Rush YDs per Game||36.3||98.1|
|YDs per Rush||3.03||4.54|
|Rush Success Rate||32.14%||42.27%|
|Targets per Game||3||2.7|
|Rec per Game||2.1||2.2|
|Rec YDs per Game||14.1||20.9|
|YDs per Rec||6.71||9.50|
|Rec Success Rate||60%||85%|
|Total TDs per Game||0.29||0.67|
First, note the increase in usage. At some point around their bye, Cincinnati decided to feature Mixon -- he was on the field for at least 60% of snaps in six of their eight contests following their bye, as opposed to just two of eight before it.
Across the board, his production shot up. His per game and per rush stats saw significant increases, as did his scoring. His advanced metrics tell a tale of a rejuvenated back. His Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play shot up from -0.15 -- which would have ranked 45th among backs with at least 100 carries in 2019 -- to 0.07, which would have ranked 7th. His Rushing Success Rate (I.e., the percentage of successful rushes) through the first seven weeks would've ranked 45th, whereas his Rate after Week 7 would have had him 15th in the league.
His 272.16 half-PPR pace from Week 8 and on would have had him rank as the RB5 in 2019 and RB6 in 2018.
Mixon's ceiling could be even higher if the Bengals come to their senses about utilizing his skills.
Cincinnati has given Giovani Bernard essentially the same amount of targets as Mixon over the last two seasons, and that needs to change. In each season, Mixon has bested Bernard in Reception NEP, Reception NEP per reception, and Reception Success Rate.
Luckily for Mixon, he will now be lining up next to a quarterback who targeted Clyde Edwards-Helaire 66 times last season despite having a receiving corps that included Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall, and Thaddeus Moss.
The Joe Burrow Effect
As for that quarterback, his name is Joe Burrow. You might've heard of him.
Burrow's presence should prevent defensive coordinators from zeroing in on Mixon, which could lead to improved efficiency.
However, Burrow isn't the only thing Cincy's offense has going for them. They have a wide receiver room that will include A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins. That should help last year's 28th-ranked passing offense make some serious strides.
The Bengals will also be adding 2019's 11th overall pick, Jonah Williams, to their offensive line. They also signed veteran guard Xavier Su'a-Filo to help improve a unit that ranked seventh-worst in adjusted line yards, per Football Outsiders.
Add a potential franchise quarterback, stud receivers, and an improved offensive line to the mix, and a breakout season could be in store for Mixon.
numberFire projects Mixon to post 1234.7 rushing yards, 42.47 receptions, 313.3 receiving yards, and 9.58 total scores. That would have amounted to an RB8 finish last year -- which is right around his current ADP.
That said, Mixon could very well be in a position to step into the tier of elite running backs in 2020. A top-five finish is certainly attainable. Once Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Michael Thomas are off the board, I'd start to strongly consider making Mixon my selection.